Remarks at Affordable and Secure Food Act Press Conference

Senator Michael Bennet
4 min readDec 15, 2022

Remarks from Press Conference — As Delivered

Well, thank you for being here. I want to thank Congressman Newhouse, Congressman Carbajal, and Congressman Valadao for being here today. The leaders from United Farm Workers, including my friends Arturo Rodriguez and Teresa Romero Chuck Connor from the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, and Rebecca Shi from the American Business Immigration Council.

We’re all here this morning with a simple message.

Next week is our last, best opportunity to address the labor crisis in American agriculture. And I would say, maybe our last, best chance to save family farms in this country. And all of us have come together around a targeted, common-sense proposal to do just that.

Our proposal responds to three urgent and related challenges.

First, America’s farmers and ranchers don’t have enough workers.

That’s what I heard from Robert Sakata, a vegetable farmer in Brighton, Colorado. When Robert visited my office, he handed me fliers advertising his farm equipment. And I asked Robert, “Why are you selling your equipment? Why are you selling your implements?” And he told me it was because he didn’t have enough labor to harvest the crops. Today, they don’t even grow vegetables anymore at Sakata Farms — only row crops.

I hear stories like that all across Colorado, and I’ve heard them for the last decade. And everyone here knows why that’s happening.

Since 2012, the cost of farm labor has gone up nearly 50% — much more than other workers in the economy. And if we don’t give growers certainty, we’re going to see a lot of them go out of business entirely.

At the same time, we have hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers living in the shadows in this economy. And these are the people working every single day to feed America. We wouldn’t have an agriculture economy if we didn’t have these people living in the shadows.

People like Lulu Guerrero, who lives in Weld County, Colorado. She gets up at 3:00 AM every morning to plant watermelons, onions, tomatoes, and pumpkins. She’s been doing that for 20 years — without status, without protections, and with no legal recourse if someone takes advantage of her.

The status quo is terrible for workers or farmers, and it’s terrible for growers, and it’s terrible for families who’ve seen their grocery bills shoot up. As you can see in the past year, grocery prices are up almost 12% — faster than at any time in the past 40 years. Apples are up 7.4% Milk: almost 15%. Potatoes: 16%. Eggs: 49%. And you can draw a straight line from these higher prices and the crisis of farm labor.

And we’re here because nobody up here, and the people that we represent back home, can accept the status quo. And we have a plan to fix it — the Affordable and Secure Food Act.

Our proposal builds on the legislation that our colleagues in the House passed last year . I congratulate them for the strong bipartisan vote they had a really significant piece of legislation.

And the newer version that we’ve been working on with the people behind me increases the number of H-2A visas and opens the program up to year-round jobs for the first time ever. It creates wage certainty for farmers to protect them from harmful swings in labor costs. Under this plan, farmers would save $23 billion over the next 12 years — and over $2 billion more in the version that we’re here to talk about today, than in the House version.

It creates a mandatory E-verify system for farm workers nationwide. And finally, it establishes legal protections and a pathway for undocumented workers to apply for a green card after they’ve worked in agriculture in this country for 10 years.

That’s not amnesty. That’s a recognition that anybody who’s spent decades working to feed America should have the opportunity to apply for lawful status.

This plan is broadly supported by farmers, by labor, by immigration advocates, and business. There is no reason that we shouldn’t get this done.

And we all know what’s going to happen if we don’t: More farmers and ranchers are gonna go out of business. More farm workers will remain in the shadows, living with fear and uncertainty in the country they feed every single day with the sweat of their labor.

And more families will have to make impossible choices between groceries and the rent, medicine, or school supplies for their kids.

If Congress can’t get this done, it would not only be a massive missed opportunity, but a dereliction of our duty to the American people, to the rural economy in this country, and to agriculture.

We have to get this done.

So I’m going to stop there and turn it over to Congressman Newhouse from Washington State, who led the effort in the House. And unlike most people in this chamber, actually is a farmer, and actually knows what he’s talking about.

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